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How to start learning Chinese efficiently

How to start learning Chinese efficiently

Mandarin Chinese is a complex language. Because of this, the language can be quite hard to learn, especially for westerners and English speakers. But with daily practice and a strong commitment anyone can succeed in mastering it. Use your textbooks, practice alone and with your Mandarin-speaking friends (online or offline), and use the language as many times as possible. But if you want to learn it both fast and efficient, you have to remember what the most important things in Mandarin Chinese language are.

1. Master the basics

Mandarin Chinese uses four tones (actually five) because it is a tonal language. This means that different tones change the meaning of the words, even when the spelling and pronunciation are the same. It is crucial for you to learn the difference between the tones if you want to speak Chinese correctly. 

The first tone –  is a high and flat tone. The voice stays flat. No rise or dip of the way it sounds. The first tone is indicated by the symbol above the letter a: “ā“.

The second tone – is a rising tone. The voice rises from a low to normal voice. The tone is the same as the saying “what?” or “huh?”. The second tone is indicated by the symbol above the letter a: “á“.

The third tone – is a dipping one. The pitch goes from a normal voice to high, just like when you  say the “B” letter. The third tone is indicated by the symbol above the letter a: “ǎ“.

The fourth tone – is a lowering one. The pitch goes from a high to low, just like when you give someone the “STOP!” command. The fourth tone is indicated by the symbol above the letter a: “à“.

2. Vocabulary

After you have mastered the tones, you have to start memorizing simple vocabulary. Indifferent of the language you are trying to learn, the more words you know and can utilize, the sooner will you be able to speak fluently. That is why the next step you should take is to memorize useful words in the Chinese language. 

  • In the beginning, you can start by learning: the times of day, body parts, food, colors, months, weather, genders, the rooms of a home, familiar objects, animals, and others.
  • Then, when you have already memorized some of them, you have to remember them on a daily basis if possible. A good exercise would be to translate during the day some words that you use in English. If you do not know how to translate a certain English word in your mind, you can write it down and look it up later. 
  • It 's nice to have a wide Chinese vocabulary, but you have to remember that accuracy is more important in Chinese Mandarin. So it is almost pointless to learn a word if you are not able to pronounce it correctly and use the correct the tone. 

3. Numbers are vital 

You also have to learn to count. Luckily for you, the Chinese numerical system is straightforward and extremely logical. It is fairly easy to learn how to count to 99 once you have learned the first ten numbers. 

  • One: is written as () or , and is pronounced [eee]
  • Two: is written as () or èr, and is pronounced [arr]
  • Three: is written as () or sān, and is pronounced [saan]
  • Four: is written as () or , and is pronounced [ssuh]
  • Five: is written as () or , and is pronounced [woo]
  • Six: is written as () or liù, and is pronounced [lee-yoe]
  • Seven: is written as () or , and is pronounced [chi]
  • Eight: is written as () or , and is pronounced [baa]
  • Nine: is written as () or jiǔ, and is pronounced [jee-yo]
  • Ten: is written as () or shí, and is pronounced [sh]

4. Start learning the basics of conversation

Once you have a basic understanding of the vocabulary and pronunciation, you should move on to the basics of conversational phrases. 

  • Hello = nǐhǎo, is pronounced [nee how]
  • Goodbye = zài jiàn, is pronounced [zay jee-en]
  • No = bú shì, is pronounced [boo sh]
  • Yes = shì, is pronounced [sh]
  • What's your name? = nǐ jiào shén me míng zì[1]
  • Thank you = xiè xiè, is pronounced [shie shie]
  • Excuse me = duì bu qǐ, is pronounced [dway boo chee]
  • You're welcome = bú yòng xiè, is pronounced [boo yong shee-e]
  • I don't understand = wǒ bù dǒng, is pronounced [wuo boo downg]

You have to have patience and try to learn something new in Mandarin Chinese every day. In addition to this, you have to exercise what you have learned if you want to build a strong foundation. And one of the best things you can do is to find a Chinese friend to whom you can speak and from whom you can learn directly. 

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